Saturday, June 8, 2013

Alzheimer's is a terrible, debilitating disease that steals the mind and soul of the person afflicted with this cruel disease. It locks the memories and the present happenings away where they can't be remembered or used. There is a disconnect with life and reality. The disease challenges the family as they are forced to deal with the confusion. My mom and all of her sisters were affected, this story I am sharing is a small part of Alzheimer's legacy.

Never the Same
            My mother was one of six daughters. All have been ravaged by the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. She had two brothers, but they died at younger age before they could demonstrate any of the symptoms. Violet was one of my mother’s older sisters. They enjoyed talking on the telephone every morning for extended periods of time. The chatted about nothing in particular, sometimes rehashing the same things every day. They were close.
            Our families would frequently do things together. We would go on spontaneous picnics or other outings when one would call the other and say, “How about…?” and off we would go. Stopping at a store for drinks, bread, and some lunch meat, voila, it was a picnic. It was an adventure.
My aunt and uncle had a large garden in raised beds. They dared a weed to show its head. They had several apple trees and often would share their bounty with us. When Uncle Charles died, Violet lived alone. The garden went by the wayside and the fingers of Alzheimer’s began to steal away her cognizance bit by bit.
Alzheimer’s began to affect my mom as well. I think those daily phone calls helped to keep them in touch with each other and the world, holding the aspects of dementia at bay. It kept the prison doors of the mind robbing disease open, even if it was just a crack.
One morning, my dad came into the room to see what my mom was doing. He had heard her voice getting louder and louder. She was calling her sister’s name and almost yelling, “Violet! Violet!” into the receiver.
Dad asked, “What’s going on?”
“Carl, it’s Violet. She’s not answering me. I think I heard the phone drop.”Dad took the receiver and listened. He could only hear some background noises from the television set. He called her name several times and when she did not answer, he hung up and redialed. The line was sounding as though it was busy or it was off the switch hook.
Hanging up again, he called her son to go and to check on her. He only lived about a city block away.
Hanging up, Dad waited for the call back.
It was worse than he expected. Dad had thought perhaps Violet had a stroke or had fallen and had been knocked unconscious, but it was not to be. Violet had died while talking on the telephone to my mom.
The incident was so unbelievably hard on my mom. For months afterward, mom would talk about little else. “She died while I was talking to her on the phone.” she would mumble.
It seemed like that was a turning point in the progression of her Alzheimer’s disease. Her illness advanced more rapidly and her demeanor changed. My mom had to have things just so and that changed. She didn’t want to wash herself or change clothes.
I don’t know if the loss of the conversations or whether the shock of talking to her sister when she died tipped the scale, but it definitely made her disease worsen.


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